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The top 5 NBA draft prospects who were unranked high school recruits


The 2024 NBA draft has plenty of prospects who first arrived on the national radar as high school All-Americans who ranked among ESPN’s Top 100. Nine of the top 15 players on ESPN’s current draft board are ranked (international players are not ranked).

But there are also prospects drafted every year whose profile and skills were lesser known in high school for a variety of reasons. Kris Murray (Sacramento Kings) and Brandin Podziemski (Golden State Warriors) are examples of unranked high schoolers who became first-round draft picks, and both averaged more than 20 minutes a game last season as rookies.

And while the numbers aren’t in their favor, unranked players ultimately emerge as NBA prospects every year. Ja Morant, Devin Vassell, Jalen Williams and Bennedict Mathurin are other examples who went on to become lottery picks within the past five years.

Identifying, evaluating and hitting on these players is a boon for NBA scouts and decision-makers, sometimes even altering the trajectory of a franchise. After all, the NBA draft is all about talent acquisition in the lottery, or unearthing valuable hidden gems later in the draft. This is a group of players with extraordinary work habits, perseverance and special traits.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the path of five NBA prospects who will be drafted this week after being unranked in high school.



The highlights that make Dalton Knecht a top NBA prospect

Check out some of the best highlights that make Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht a top prospect in the 2024 NBA draft.

Tennessee won big this year in part to Knecht — a consensus first-team All-American and SEC Player of the Year. He averaged 26 points over his final 22 games. Scouts and front office executives evaluated his game throughout the season, and he currently ranks No. 7 on ESPN’s big board.

But it’s Knecht’s back story that opened eyes and made him what he is today.

Knecht entered high school as a 5-foot-6 freshman and finished as a 6-3 senior. Problems in the classroom kept him off the court at times during his sophomore year, and he was not recruited by Division I schools before ending up at Northeastern Junior College in Colorado for two seasons.

He ultimately made it to Northern Colorado and the Big Sky Conference in 2022. He averaged nine points per game his first season but upped it to 21 PPG in Year 2, earning second-team All-Big Sky honors.

The uptick caught the attention of many Power 5 schools once he entered the portal, but Knecht said he wanted to be coached hard in a positive manner and be held accountable. Hall of Fame coach Rick Barnes at Tennessee was the perfect match.

According to Synergy Sports, Knecht shot 42% at Tennessee on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and 40% on contested long-range 3s, which included off-ball movement. Making contested shots is a separating skill and a key indicator of future success in the NBA.

“What he does will translate to the NBA,” Barnes said. “He makes shots and never gets rattled or fazed by what’s going on. Nobody was coached harder on our team last year than him.”

Those around the program say Knecht is always in the gym and welcomes constructive criticism as he constantly works on his game.

Usually when a player moves up in conference, his numbers go down. Knecht did the opposite. His scoring numbers and free throw attempts slightly increased in the SEC.

Whether shooting off movement, screens or spotting up, Knecht’s shot-making versatility is always on display. Knecht scored big and made timely shots in big games, delivering when Tennessee needed him. Defense will be an uphill battle in the NBA, but his off-the-dribble defense is encouraging.

Knecht went from junior college to second-team All-Big Sky to a first-team All-American in a matter of years. He turned 23 in April, so he’s experienced but still relatively young considering his journey. While his path is nontraditional, Knecht now finds himself projected in the top half of the lottery.

Edey was a 7-3 three-star recruit out of IMG. He needed time to adjust to the speed of the game, but he always worked on his body and his craft. Coaches understand that big men often develop later in their career because they need more touches to adjust to the physicality and pace of play; with his massive size and all-important traits, it was only a matter of time before Edey bloomed.

“His strongest on-court character strengths for me would be mental toughness, and he’s significantly more athletic than people give him credit for,” IMG coach Sean McAloon said. “He can do things at 7-foot-4 that I saw kids struggle with at 6-foot-10.”

Edey’s improvement at Purdue could be measured simply by his ability to remain on the floor. He averaged 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes as a freshman, according to Synergy Sports, but just 2.3 per 40 this past season, allowing him to be more impactful for longer stretches — a sign of coachability and discipline.

“I think in terms of struggles, he just had not gotten comfortable with the speed of the game in high school,” McAloon said. “Huge credit to Purdue and their staff. He changed ends much faster and knows how to disguise positioning. In high school, he just ran to the block and tried to move people. People in high school could not figure out how to ref him, either.”

Now, McAloon said Edey looks much more comfortable in his own skin as a player and leader. Ohio State coach Jake Diebler agreed. The Buckeyes beat Purdue in Diebler’s first game as head coach this season.

“Edey came back significantly better,” he said. “He’s smart, tough, with touch and IQ. His ball-screen defense will be a question. We went at him for stretches, especially on the empty side. We tried to make him adjust his coverage.”

Matt Painter’s tutelage at Purdue helped as Edey learned how to better use his size to impact games. And in the NBA, there’s always a need for 7-4 centers with a 7-10 wingspan.

Edey can score on NBA defenders with his size and touch on the block. He showed his touch and some range at the NBA combine. He understands how to make and maintain contact with a sturdy base, and his footwork is solid — his easiest baskets will come by taking advantage of angles. He often worked against double- and sometimes triple-teams in college, which won’t likely be the case in the NBA.

Edey also rebounds with determination on both ends. His self-awareness is a very underrated part of his attraction, and he’ll be a great screener on and off the ball. Edey catches lobs high and keeps the ball there, helping him finish. He runs with effort in one direction, and the next step will be getting him to convert in sequences.

Defensively, he’ll be a drop defender on ball screens and provide a presence as a help defender on penetration. When the game slows down — which it still does — Edey is a physically imposing presence as a paint scorer and low-post defender.



Carlton Carrington throws down big slam dunk vs. Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons

Carlton Carrington throws down big slam dunk vs. Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons

Carrington finished right outside the top 100 as a late bloomer who has grown four inches since the end of his high school career, during which he scored 2,000 points. He developed into a potential lottery pick after one season under Jeff Capel at Pitt and is one of the better combo guards in the draft when considering age, production and upside.

The Baltimore native was battle-tested playing for Saint Frances Academy as well as both Team Melo and Team Durant in grassroots basketball. Carrington grew into a role as a big guard with a strong floor game who can score.

“He doesn’t change his emotions during a game. He’s a worker,” Team Durant coach Wayne Pratt said. “He doesn’t ask what time practice is, he knows. You don’t have to tell him to spend extra time on his game, he does it. He is a simple kid. He did not have social media in high school. His dad, Bub Sr., is well known and well respected in the high school and grassroots circles. He taught his son to be a learner.”

Capel and his staff did an outstanding job identifying fit, evaluating Carrington’s ability and traits, then developing his game.

“The scouts watched his game live, they watched game tape and workouts. They see the ability. But his greatest strength is his mind,” Capel said. “He is super competitive and smart. He was getting worn down because he worked out too much on game days. We had to shut him down to where he only did shootaround. At only 18 years old, he was an ACC point guard. He’ll adjust to the NBA sooner rather than later.”

Carrington is a future point guard, and his numbers at Pitt belie his age. He had a strong assist-turnover ratio (4.1-1.9) and was responsible for 35.9% of the team’s assists while he was on the floor, an elite figure, according to Just Play Solutions. On the other hand, Carrington was turnover-prone, contributing to 27.2% of the team turnovers.

He has long-range shooting upside, connecting on 44.7% of his 3-pointers over his last five games at Pittsburgh, and was impressive in 3-point shooting drills at the NBA combine.

Carrington’s midrange accuracy is his calling card, converting at 51% with a big sample size. He made 1.9 shots per 3.6 per shots attempted per game, and most of those were self-created. In time, Carrington has the tools to transition to a lead guard when factoring in past and projected contributions.

As for his physicality and feel for the game, he reminds me of Derrick White. The Celtics guard played Division II at 18 years old, and he was 6-4½ when he attended the combine at 22 years old. At 6-5, Carrington has outstanding feel and size for the point guard position, and he’s developing long-range shooting and decision-making ability. He’s one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft and will only get better as he gets in the weight room and film room and reps out his 3-point shot.

Kolek had no big offers out of St. George’s School (Rhode Island) as a three-star ESPN recruit while playing his club basketball for the Middlesex Magic and coach Mike Crotty. Kolek didn’t even have a recruiting profile on most sites but signed with George Mason out of high school. He transferred to Marquette after earning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year in 2020-21 with the Patriots.

Since his high school and club basketball days, Kolek displayed uncommon work habits and a borderline obsession for the game.

“Tyler is a special winner. His work ethic is different,” Crotty said. “Having coached Duncan Robinson and Pat Connaughton, who were incredible workers, I’ve been lucky to coach some remarkable talents. Tyler is the most relentless worker I’ve ever coached. He would stop with his family at a YMCA on the way to tournaments to get extra work in. His desire to always be in the gym, working on his craft always separated him.”

Kolek became a household name in 2023, reaching the NCAA tournament and finishing first-team All-Big East. He also helped Marquette win a Big East championship that season.

His numbers backed up the eye test this past season. He makes talented players around him better and is easy to play with as a pure playmaker who also attacks the basket with a low, quick first step.

Kolek’s passing, ball-sharing and playmaking stand out. He led the nation with 7.7 assists per game and was responsible for an outrageous 52.9% of Marquette assists while on the floor, according to Just Play Solutions.

The lefty point guard made 38.8% of his 3-pointers as well and was even better in Marquette’s wins (44%). He demonstrated 3-point range and consistency in the star shooting drill at the NBA combine. Free throws are usually a strong indicator of a future jumper, and Kolek averaged 85.1% from the line.

The NBA will love his floor general ability. He’s a half-a-second decision-maker who has proved he can manipulate ball-screen coverages, doesn’t panic when pressured or trapped, and can even shoot behind the screen if necessary.



Baylor Scheierman’s NBA draft profile

Check out some of the highlights that have made Baylor Scheierman a top NBA draft prospect.

Scheierman grew up in Aurora, Nebraska, a town with a population under 5,000. He was 5-9, 110 pounds entering high school.

“I was tiny, but I played like I do now — with a lot of confidence and a little cockiness,” he said.

Scheierman was a standout high school athlete. He quarterbacked a state championship football team and threw for over 4,500 yards and 59 touchdowns. He posted a 97-8 career record in basketball. And he had athletic bloodlines: Both his parents played sports at Hastings College in Nebraska. His mother, Shannon, is 6-1 and played volleyball, while his father, Scott, is a 6-6 former basketball player. But even after growing to 6-5, Scheierman received mostly NAIA and Division II interest. He chose South Dakota State, his only Division I offer, out of high school.

Scheierman was a gunner for the Jackrabbits. He shot 46.9% from 3 and was the Summit League Player of the Year as a junior in 2021-22. He then hit the portal, ranking No. 4 in ESPN’s transfer rankings, and looked at several high-major programs.

Ultimately, Creighton’s success combined with Greg McDermott’s coaching style and relatability won out.

“The system is an NBA-style offense,” Scheierman said. “It has ball screens and off-ball screens with spacing and pace. Defensively, it’s NBA-based, even the terminology. Coach McDermott trusts his players. He gives them freedom and never loses his cool. There are a lot of ebbs and flows in games and a season. He’s never too high or too low. I loved my two years at Creighton.”

Scheierman shot 36.4% on 3-pointers his first year at Creighton. He upped that mark to 38% this past season despite attempting 8.3 per game. Impressively, he made 41% of his 3s off screens shooting, cutting and reading pin-downs, staggers and flares. He made 38% of his off-the-dribble 3s, which makes him even more difficult to defend. A quick decision-maker, Scheierman can shot fake and sidestep into his 3-point shot.

He’s a small forward type with ability to play some small-ball 4. He’ll hit the glass (he averaged nine rebounds per game) but he needs to tone up his frame and become more athletic on the ball.

“His work ethic is as good as anyone I’ve been around,” Creighton assistant Derek Kellogg said.

Scheierman said he’s fortunate South Dakota State saw his ability and offered him a scholarship. He impacted the Jackrabbits’ program, then focused on culture, fit and opportunity at Creighton. He developed into an NBA draft pick and became the first college basketball player to tally over 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 made 3s.

“I don’t think I’d be in this position right now unless I worked my tail off,” Scheierman said. “I was not highly recruited out of high school. There were not a lot of people who thought I would do anything in college, either.”

Scheierman had pre-draft workouts with Boston, Toronto, Minnesota, New York, Washington, New Orleans and Utah. He reportedly shot the ball very well in team workouts.

The 23-year-old is a shot-maker with an elite IQ. He brings a mature, serious approach with a winning edge.


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